By Arthur H. Gunther III
There were no Twitter moments in the information revolution of my youth, which was the transition from radio to television. Entertainer Milton Berle, newscaster John Cameron Swaze and funnyman Jackie Gleason came to life, literally, as most TV was live programming, replacing the on-air radio voices and sound effects. It was magical, this slapstick and haphazardly directed programming. Imagine, live “video” in your home. You no longer stared off into day-dreaming space listening to radio drama or comedy.
Yet that — radio — was a revolution, too, in my grandfather’s time, when small crystal radio sets without battery could pick up nighttime signals in New York from as far away as Chicago. Imagine, voices in your living room, replacing a an occasional trip into town to see the traveling vaudeville show.
And, of course, vaudeville replaced whatever entertainment came calling in the 1800s, 1700s — before.
Today’s Internet, Twitter, Facebook, other information/entertainment/social media, are the fleeting moment’s new getting-out-the-message modality, challenging or replacing TV and radio and vaudeville, the theater and whatever else that used to have us sit for a spell and actually absorb in minutes, even hours, rather than the seconds pushed by “hashtag” this and that.
Ironically, the hash sign — # — now commonly called hashtag, is used in Twitter and elsewhere as part of an information search. But in my early newspaper days, and for generations before me, a hash symbol was required at the end of each typewritten page or “take” of a story to indicate to the copy editor that more material followed. So, essentially, newspaper #s meant “more.” So do Twitter hashtags. New version of same old.
What goes around comes around, or as Yogi Berra would put it, “If you’ve seen it, then you saw it.” Radio was an extension of vaudeville made possible by Hertz, Marconi and others; television pushed information delivery thanks to people like Farnsworth and Zworykin. Then came the Internet, with Twitter, Facebook, digital newspapering. Ahead are additional ways to deliver information. Truly next is “#” — “more.”
I did not get to enjoy a vaudeville performance, so I cannot comment on how my mind would have absorbed the sights and sounds and come to any conclusions about the entertainment. I did not attend the Lincoln-Douglas debates, so I don’t know how I would have taken in that live information.
But I have been through radio, television, early and later Internet, now Twitter and Facebook. I was also a newspaperman for 42 seasons and am still one by instinct and practice. Information is my suit, ands for that reason, I am in awe of the possibilities ahead, just as my grandfather probably was in 1914 when he listened under the covers to the “nether” via his crystal radio set. I just hope we take the time to digest — and question — all that massive information, given so quickly and often without vetting.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.